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The Sandollar Motorcycle Club International Grand Tour: The Howard Wilson & Co. Edition

Editorial note: This story was originally posted on November 16, 2016.

Being a “newbie” to the club and wanting to get out and ride, Howard W decided to tackle the International Grand Tour. He decided to make it interesting and complete it in one day, starting (naturally) from Al’s Garage.

Howard searched Wikipedia and compiled lists of cities in the nearby counties. Then he used Garmin’s Basecamp computer software program to figure out what towns within the area generated a route that 1) completed the tour and 2) consumed an entire day of riding. The route started in Shalimar and ended in Milton.

Once the route was established, Howard contacted a few Sandies to see if they’d like to tag along. After a blizzard of emails and phone calls, the group consisted of Howard, Tim W, Charles K, Jerry G, and Jim W. They agreed to leave Friday, 11 Nov 2016 at 08:00 AM with an estimated completion time of 5:00 PM.

The morning of 11 Nov was clear and crisp—a perfect fall morning. Upon arrival at Al’s, Howard was surprised to see Jim Walters already in the parking lot. Jim had arrived early because, much to Howard’s chagrin, he’d left Jim off of the previous day’s coordination email. Jim, always the good sport, was ready anyway!

The first surprise of the day came when two Low Road riders showed up at Al’s before Howard & Co. left on the tour. After a flurry of phone calls, the two lost lambs were twisting their throttles to catch up with the rest of the Low Roaders and then the International Tour group hit the road.

After an exhausting <sarcasm> 1.37 miles, the group stopped for their first picture at Shalimar’s Town Hall. As the Sandollar in the lower right of the picture documents, this stop satisfied the “S” in “Sandollar MC”.

Note: We didn’t actually all take a picture together at any(!) of our stops. The pictures in this document were manipulated in Photoshop making two pictures into one.

After a complaint about a BMW engine not even getting warmed up before the first stop and a lot of questions about where we were going next and why, we were off to stop number 2.

Just to make it interesting on the way to Niceville, Howard missed the turn onto Hwy 85 so the group got to do their first (not their last!) detour of the day. Thankfully, there was a left turn before entering Eglin AFB that allowed the group to get back to Hwy 85. Howard believes Jim turned a bit grayer after learning Jim had repeatedly yelled into his CB, “TURN, TURN, TURN!!!!!” as Howard continued to go straight. Howard had—naturally—forgotten to turn on his CB so he was completely and blissfully unaware of Jim’s pleas.

The Niceville Water Tower completed the tour’s “N” requirement. Two down, 9 more to go.

Before Howard could get the group on the road again, a discussion ensued on how we’d get to our next stop in DeFuniak Springs. Howard, not knowing the roads in the area, shrugged and said, “However the GPS takes me!” Much to the credit of Howard’s companions, they said, “OK—let’s go!” The GPS (for once) got it right and took the riders on Bob Sikes Road. The GPS data shows the group stayed right at the legal speed limit of 45 mph for the entire length. (Um…does the club make members take lie detector tests???)

The DeFuniak Springs Water Tower completed the challenge’s “D”. Note how the clouds are starting to gather—the weather definitely changed over the course of the day. (Also note this picture was impossible to make it look like we’d all gathered together—Howard is standing in front of the tower maintenance building instead of the water tower.)

After the photo, Tim White asked Howard if he’d ever seen the lake. The entire group was surprised when Howard said, “No—this is my first time in DeFuniak Springs.” A conversation then ensued about just what the heck Howard has been doing for the last 18 months of his life. The answer? Work. And work some more. And then for good measure toss in a new house, planning for retirement, etc. etc…just a couple of minor life events! The result of the conversation was an offer from Tim to lead the group around the lake for a quick sightseeing tour. As we were already 30 minutes ahead of schedule, around the lake we went. There is no doubt after seeing the beautiful lake and houses that Howard’s wife Francine will love DeFuniak Springs!

As Howard led the group out of DeFuniak he was befuddled by Charles’ flashing emergency blinkers. What could it mean? Did the club have some secret code tied to flashers? Could it be club-lingo for “speed up” or “Hey, I gotta stop”? Actually, it was just Charles committing an “oopsie”. Jim had the fun job of informing Charles his flashers were on while we were underway—not an easy feat. Thankfully it worked out OK because there was also an unplanned emergency call from nature. Now that Howard had his CB turned on, the message was conveyed and the group stopped before leaving the city.

The next destination was the water tower in Crestview. While Howard had planned all of the picture locations, he did not (could not?) see the planned parking spot’s slope at the base of the water tower. This led Howard to abort the planned location and execute a U-turn to find a suitable picture location. A graveyard just down the road had a paved road, so the deviation from the plan was minor.

Once again there was a conversation about why we had stopped in Crestview, where (and why) we were headed next, and the question/comment,

“Is this the Water Tower Tour? If it is, I’m in!”

Not all of the stops were water towers, so Howard again went over the list of stops and acknowledged there was nothing cosmic about the route other than fulfilling the tour’s requirements and riding all day. Howard acknowledged there was undoubtedly different cities and towns with appropriate picture locations where they could stop, but the group decided to stick to the plan.

Before they left Crestview a few of the riders started to visibly fade due to a lack of sustenance. It was a frightful scene! A line from the movie “101 Dalmations” is applicable here: “I’m hungry mother, I’m hungry!” The riders would have to tighten their belts, though, because there were two more stops before lunch in Opp, Alabama.

The ride to the Laurel Hill City Hall was uneventful. As the building is right on the main road, the stop and picture were completed within minutes. The only excitement was making sure Jim didn’t back out into the very busy roadway as he framed the “perfect picture”.

The ride to the next “L”, a.k.a. the Lockhart Post Office, had one small detour because Howard’s GPS told him to turn off of Hwy 85 onto Grimes Road. Unfortunately, at the end of Grimes Road is two dirt roads. Tim gleefully sped to the front and pointed down the dirt road while yelling, “Follow Me!” Tim and Jerry’s bike could handle the road, but Jim and Charles’ Harleys and Howard’s Goldwing are not exactly equipped for an off-road adventure. Needless to say, we executed another U-turn. Tim, with a long face, turned around, too.

After a quick photo in front of the Lockhart Post Office the group hastened to Opp, Alabama and lunch at Bentons. Bentons is a small Mom & Pop restaurant just across from the Opp High School. All five of us ate a deliciously decadent burger and fries. As usual, there was the usual banter and also a lot of talk about the “best” type of motorcycle. In Howard’s opinion, one of the strengths of the Sandollar MC is that ALL motorcycles are the “best” type. That includes our cadre of three-wheelers. (Sorry, Sharon, but if it has a steering wheel it’s not a motorcycle! Just teasing her, folks…no emails, nasty Facebook posts or hate letters, please. <grin>)

After a quick stop for gas, the group headed to Andalusia, Alabama to complete the first “A”. Andalusia is a beautiful town. As the group entered they were greeted by dozens of American flags placed in front of the First Baptist Church along Notch Street. A beautiful sight on Veteran’s Day! The city hall is also a gorgeous building, with well-manicured grounds and landscaping. (Our picture doesn’t do it justice.) Just to make it interesting, Howard led the group down a one-way driveway the “Sandie Way’, as Jim later described it. (Howard always tells Francine, “What’s the problem? I’m only going one way!”)

The next stretch was a relatively long ride of 46 miles to Riverview City Hall. Along the way the group encountered multiple logging trucks. As soon as it was safe, they dispatched the trucks and left them far in their wake.

The Riverview City Hall in Riverview, Alabama is a small building not much larger than an average house. It had a perfect parking lot and sign for a picture, though, so that is why it was chosen. The group also took a moment to catch up with phone calls and one of the riders made sure an Alabama pine tree growing behind the building was well watered. <lol>

After a quick comfort break at a McDonald’s for the rest of us in Brewton, the group headed to Atmore which featured a couple of fun & curvy roads. The group arched through the corners and cranked their throttles as they accelerated out of the apexes. It was fun after a day of mostly straight roads!

Upon entering Atmore, there was a collective “uh oh” muttered by the five riders as what seemed like the entire Atmore police force was parked, lights flashing, just inside the city limits on the road we were traveling. Thankfully they were NOT waiting for us. <Whew!> At the Atmore City Hall the seasoned club members related stories of “police escorts” through many a small town over the course of the Sandollar club’s history.

After completing the second “A” requirement the group headed for their last stop—Milton--under increasingly darkening skies and dropping temperatures. On the road to Milton the hazards associated with riding on public roads suddenly reared its ugly head when Howard (who was leading) encountered a truck that had dumped its load of aluminum recyclable cans onto the road. He waved and pointed like he was having being attacked by a swarm of bees to try and warn the riders behind of the danger. Thankfully, everyone made it through without a problem.

The day ended in the Milton Library Annex’s parking lot with the Milton Water Tower off in the distance. This stop fulfilled the last letter—M—in the tour’s requirements. The tour itself was just over 266 miles, but all of us were pushing over 280 miles since leaving our homes. Many of the riders reported they’d eclipsed well over 300 miles by the time they got home. An exhausting but exhilarating day!

Howard wants to thank Charles, Jerry, Tim and Jim for their companionship and for making the day so safe and enjoyable.

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